Tuesday, March 29, 2005
Recent posts by Steve, Rob, and Michael have raised the important issue of the development of doctrine. Michael's post mentioned John Noonan's new book on the issue, which I have not yet had the chance to read.
The inaugural issue of the St. Thomas Law Journal (which was devoted to the work of Judge Noonan) contained several papers on development of doctrine. The authors who addressed this topic included Joseph Boyle, Cathy Kaveny, Bob Kennedy, and James Megivern. My own contribution, which is at 1 St. Thomas L. J. 285-306 (2003), is a critique of Noonan's position.
One of the points I made is that people too frequently reach the conclusion that the Church has changed Her position on a disputed issue. Sometimes the conclusion that the Church has changed Her teaching on one issue seems directed at an effort to argue that the Church ought to change Her position on some second issue. So, it is interesting to note that Noonan's book on Usury took the position that the Church had not changed Her position on this issue. As Germain Grisez pointed out, Noonan's charge that Church teaching on usury had in fact changed surfaced years later when the controversy over contraception was raging.
On the issue of religious liberty raised by Rob, I think people too quickly reach the conclusion that Church teaching has changed. Some of the statements from 19 century Popes seem inconsistent with Dignitatis Humanae. Yet what is necessary here is careful analysis to see if this is in fact the case. In my paper, cited above, I summarized the argument (elaborated at length by scholars such as Father Brian Harrison, Father Mullady OP, and Father Kevin Flannery SJ) that Church teaching on religious freedom has not in fact changed.
I don't think it is a good way to begin these discussions to ask "how faithful do I need to be to Church teaching?" (Think about our reaction if someone began their marriage wondering how faithful they needed to be to their spouse.) As Steve pointed out, all Catholics, not just scholars, owe assent to Church teaching. But, as he suggested, it is necessary to speak precisely about what it is the Church teaches authoritatively. Not every statement on the minimum wage carries the same weight as more authoritative statements in the Catechism or in encyclicals such as Veritatis Splendor or Evangelium Vitae.
On issues where the Church has spoken clearly, e.g., the teachings on abortion or euthanasia or contraception, Catholics owe a submission of intellect and will. I think it is useful to begin discussions about the appropriate stance towards clear, authoritatively expressed teachings of this sort with a healthy dose of humility about the fallibility of our own judgment.